What is it with hide-and-seek? Spanning thirteen years, three nephews and six nieces, there must be something addictive about this game. Just this weekend my five and seven year old nieces came down to stay. As my wife likes to say, Lizzie and Abbey are as cute as a bug’s eye! So when they ask Uncle Dave if he wants to play, I can’t resist. And the first game of choice, without fail, is hide-and-seek.
Regardless of culture, I’m sure you’ve played it. The concept is simple. One person (usually the most mature) is deemed ‘it’, and the others run and hide. Then you find them. Got the idea?! But don’t be fooled, there are more mysterious elements at play. For instance, I’m expected to count out loud. They want to know I’m coming. Granted, they always look for a dark, obscure place to hide—behind the door, or under the blankets. But if I take too long, they’ll always supply hints: a knock on the wall, a little voice ironically crying out “We’re not in here!” Abbey in particular has a mischievous sense of humour. Her favourite version is when I describe my plans in advance, saying which room I’ll explore next: “I know, Abbey’s hiding … in … HERE!” At which point I’ll lunge into the laundry, all the while knowing she’s two doors down in the guestroom. By the time I go to where I always knew she was, she’s bursting at the seams with a big smile, waiting to be grabbed almost unawares. Much tickling and laughter ensues. Even as I’m ‘it’, there’s reciprocity: it’s less about hiding than being found. My nieces need to know they’re wanted, desirable, and worth seeking. The anticipation only adds to the excitement.
When did you last play hide-and-seek? At some point it stops. Usually when it shifts from play to competition. Like Monty Python’s skit in The Flying Circus. We find two forty-year old men engaged in the Olympic Championship of hide-and-seek. The time to beat was set by Don Roberts from Hinckley in Leicestershire: 11 years, 2 months, 26 days, 9 hours, 3 minutes, 27.4 seconds, found in a sweetshop in Kilmarnock. In the second leg, Francisco Huron the Paraguayan is the seeker. Standing together in Trafalgar Square, Francisco covers his eyes: “Uno, dos, tres, quattro.” Meanwhile, Don grabs a cab, hops a flight, hires a bike, and hides behind a pillar in a castle deep in the heart of Sardinia! Cut back to Francisco: “Neuvecian no nuevetay ocho, nuevecientas nuevente ye nueve, mil [998,999,1000] …. Ready or not, here I come!” Six years later and Francisco is highly agitated and hunting in Madagascar, officially described as ‘cold’. Cut to the last day of the final, 11 years on and sporting an impressive beard. The commentator analyses the action: “The sands of time are running out for this delving dago, this saviour of seek, perspicacious Paraguayan. … It’s beginning to look like another gold for Britain.”
You get the picture. Hide-and-seek only works if you want to be found.
There’s something deeply human, and deeply Biblical, in all this. Jesus “the saviour of seek” loved to tell stories of lost-and-found. And the technique differs depending on the hider. Take Luke 15 with three parables of seeking. The sheep is hiding by accident; it went astray. So the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in safety and risks his neck to recover the one. His familiar voice echoed across the hills, “Ready or not, here I come.” And as dumb as the sheep was, I’m sure it didn’t mind being slung over his shoulders and carried back to safety. Same goes with the silver coin. Nine coins in safe-keeping, but one is missing. It’s hiding, in the dark. So the owner lights a lamp, scours the whole house, and in the very last place you’d expect, there it is. She picks up the coin, and calls a party! Laughter ensues.
Yet the tone changes for the lost child. (Or is it a recalcitrant young adult?) This one doesn’t want to be found. He tells dad to get lost, hiring a cab and hopping a plane to hide where he’ll never be uncovered: living wild in a distant country. The dad counts out loud, standing on the balcony, ever watchful. He’s already humbled himself by absorbing the son’s rejection in love. And he seems aware of his boy’s movements—perhaps he sent messengers in advance to describe his plans of reconciliation. He passionately pursues, calling his name. But without reciprocity, the play is dead.
As Robert Farrar Capon notes, the strategy of right-handed direct power at this point won’t do. It’s effective to pick up a sheep or a coin, but may only harden his boy’s heart. Instead, the Father extends with the left-handed subtle power of love. He shines a light and calls his name, scouring the whole world all the while totally aware of where the rebel is hiding. And when the time is right—stomach grumbling and loneliness overwhelming—his child knocks on the wall and ironically cries “I’m not in here.” The Father runs to his son and embraces him, almost unawares. Laughter is loud, and the party runs long.
More deceptively resourceful than Don Roberts from Hinckley, we are each prone to hide. The Bible tells this story of a God who seeks. And when we grow too old to play and don’t want to be found, he shifts technique to a “rhapsody of indirection”—left-handed power condescending in love. At Christmas we remembered how light came into the world, even as we hid in darkness for fear of exposure. But if we desire to “live by the truth” then we’ll reciprocate: we’ll come into the light (John 3:19-21). Only, of course, if we want to be found.
So, when’s the last time you played hide-and-seek?
 Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment (Eerdmans, 2002), 15-25.